Eight Rounds

Eight Rounds

Mickey Reyes was fighting Tommy Monroe for the middleweight championship on Saturday in Detroit, Tommy Monroe’s hometown. He took the fight on three weeks’ notice.

Tommy was supposed to be fighting Charles Davis. He was supposed to have fought him three months ago, but he broke his hand in training and had to postpone the bout. Then he had to postpone it again because the doctors wouldn’t clear him, and Charles Davis got tired of waiting. He said Tommy Monroe was ducking him. He took a fight instead with the number two contender and won by split decision. They were talking about having a rematch.

Now Tommy’s hand was all healed and he needed a fight. He’d gone up to light heavy last year to try to take Derek Colton’s belt, and Derek Colton had handed him his first loss, and if he didn’t fight someone soon at middleweight, they were going to strip him of his titles.

Mickey last fought four months ago. He beat a pretty good boxer down in Bogota, a young kid, not too much experience, but strong and with fast hands. Mickey wasn’t supposed to beat him. It was a hell of a fight. A lot of action, a lot of blood. It was only live in Colombia, but they showed the highlights in the States, and Tommy’s people must have seen them and thought Mickey’d be a good opponent. When they called him in Mexico City, where he was sparring with Junior Losato for Junior’s lightweight bout, and offered him the title shot, Mickey jumped at the chance. He flew back to Oakland that same night and went straight to see Pete Gomez. Pete said he’d train him, and for the past two and a half weeks, Mickey’d practically been living at Gloves Gym. All of Oakland was behind him.

I felt just sick about it.

The first week Mickey was back from Mexico, Pete opened up Gloves to the public and about twenty reporters and boxing writers went down to see him train. When I got there, he’d already started.

Mickey was smiling and going through his workout, skipping rope fast, showing off on the speed bag. And there were photographers and cameramen taking his picture and shooting film for the sports shows, all telling him what to do.

“Look this way, Miguel.”

“Work the heavy bag a while.”

“Show us something.”

Mickey’s smiling the whole time and trying to make everyone happy. And they’re all smiling watching him. It’s impossible not to like Mickey Reyes. He’s just a nice, sweet kid, shy and polite, and good-looking, too. That never hurts. You wouldn’t think he was a boxer to see him on the street. He seems too gentle to be a boxer. You could picture him as waiter maybe, or working in a department store, but you’d never peg him for a fighter. They loved interviewing him. You could tell they wanted him to win. How could you not? Father died when he was ten, mother’s in a wheelchair. He supports her and his younger brother by getting hit in the face for a living. How could you not root for a kid like that?

“What’s your strategy?” they ask him.

“How do you feel?

“You think you can win?”

They know he’s just an opponent for Tommy, and they feel bad for him. They know who Tommy Monroe is.

Mickey tells them he thinks he has a shot. Derek Colton hurt Tommy in his last fight, and the first loss is always the hardest to come back from. He thinks he saw something in that fight. What it is he’s not saying, but he and Pete have a plan. He might surprise a few people in Detroit.

I’m watching him from the back. I’m the only one not smiling.

He sees me and comes over. “How you doin’, Max?” he says. “I was looking for you.”

“I’m right here,” I say.

Then he punches me light in the stomach a couple of times.

“You gonna hit the bag later?”

“No, champ. I’m just here to see you.”

“Can you believe it?”

“Sure, I can.”

“Okay, everybody,” Pete says. “That’s it. Show’s over.”

Then when they all leave, he tells Mickey to skip rope for twenty and goes into his office. I stick around and watch. I can stay as long as I want because I’m a member of Gloves myself. I’ve been a member for fifteen years.

He looks good. Mickey looks good skipping rope. He’s in shape. He’s healed well from the fight with Carlitos Lopez. Looks that way, anyway.

That was the fight down in Colombia.

Carlitos was supposed to take care of Mickey pretty easily. He was an up-and-coming fighter, and they were starting to make noise about him. He’d only had fifteen fights, but he’d won them all, and twelve of those by knockout. The fight with Mickey wasn’t supposed to go the distance.

The way it started, it didn’t seem like it was going to.

Carlitos knocks Mickey down with an uppercut in the first thirty seconds, and it looks like it’s going to be a short night. But Mickey makes it through the round, and he starts to come back in the second. The way Mickey fights is, he’ll take two punches just to give you one. He figures if he can get inside, he can wear you down. He’s got pretty good power, and he doesn’t mind getting hit. It’s exciting to watch a fighter like that. It wins him a lot of fans. But it means he takes a lot of punishment. He and Carlitos both took a lot of punishment that night. Mickey’s three inches shorter, and he’s got to eat a lot of jabs to come in, and Carlitos is really working those jabs. They’re snapping Mickey’s head back. It’s tough to watch. But Mickey just keeps coming forward, and he’s working his way inside. At the end of the second, he gets in a good left hook to Carlitos’ body, and he hurts him, and from then on, the fight’s pretty even. Carlitos is going upstairs and Mickey’s working the body. And in the fifth, he knocks Carlitos down. God, I wish he had faster hands. If he had faster hands, he could have put him away, but Carlitos hangs on and clinches his way to the bell. He’s hurt him, though. Mickey’s hurt him bad. But his own face is swollen from all those jabs, and he’s got a cut over his right eye. During the break, both fighters are breathing heavy. Stay on him, Pete tells Mickey. You’re doing real good. I’m sitting right next to Pete; I’m practically in the corner with him, and I can hear everything he says.

For the next few rounds, Mickey’s trying, but he can’t knock Carlitos out. Carlitos is jabbing and dancing away and Mickey just keeps coming forward. He’s like a bull. He’s eating those jabs, but he’s finding a way in and he’s working Carlitos’ ribs like they’re a heavy bag. Finally Carlitos gives. He can’t come out in the ninth. He’s got two broken ribs. Probably fought like that for the last round. That kid has some heart. But Jesus, what a win for Mickey! He beat a tough kid in his own backyard, and he stepped up a level to do it. It cost him, though. His face looks awful. His eyes are all red and puffy, and he’s got that cut on his right eyebrow. His nose is probably broken, too. I follow him and Pete and Alfonso, his cutman, into the dressing room. Alfonso steps out for a fresh bucket of ice, and then it’s just me, Mickey and Pete. And Mickey won’t sit down. It’s like he’s crazy with adrenaline. He starts asking who won and we tell him he did, and then he starts acting like he’s getting ready to go fight, like he hasn’t even fought Carlitos Lopez yet. He’s talking about what he’s going to do to him. The ribs, he says, he’s gonna go after his ribs. That’s the plan, isn’t it, Pete? Pete looks like he’s going to be sick. Yeah, he says, that’s the plan. Then all of a sudden, Mickey just runs out of energy. He falls down hard against the wall and rolls over onto his side and stops moving. Me and Pete rush over to see if he’s still breathing. Scariest thing I ever saw. Outside, we can hear reporters knocking on the door, and Alfonso’s trying to get back in with the ice. And Pete’s standing over Mickey, slapping him in the face, and we’re both yelling at him. Then he just comes to. And he’s fine. I mean, he still looks like hell, but his mind’s clear. It’s like nothing happened. He starts joking with me, and he hears the knocks and wants to talk to the reporters. No way, Pete says. You’re not talking to anyone. You’re going to the hospital. He takes him there himself. But they can’t find anything wrong with him. They keep him overnight and run tests and take scans, but they tell him he’s fine and he can fight again as soon as he heals. I don’t know how they couldn’t have found anything. I wanted Pete to take him to a specialist when they got back to the States, but he was afraid if he said something, Mickey’d lose his license. Plus, he figured whatever it was must have fixed itself. Maybe that’s what happened, I don’t know. I still think he should have told someone. I don’t even think he told Mickey, not all of it. Probably didn’t want to scare him.

I didn’t tell anyone either.

“I know what you’re gonna say to me,” Pete says, when I follow him into his office after the other reporters leave.

“You get him checked out?”

“Commission doctor checked him out. He had his full medical two months ago. They didn’t find anything.”

“They do a brain scan?”

“They did lots of tests. They didn’t find anything.”

“Jesus, Pete.”

“What do you want me to do, Max?” Pete says to me. “Refuse to train him? Fight’s in three weeks. Who else is he gonna get?”

“Tommy’ll kill him,” I say. “He’s got iron in his right hand.”

“Colton handled him pretty well.”

“Colton tied him up,” I say, “used his footwork, fought defensively. And what is he, six-two? Six-three? Mickey can’t do what Colton did. Tommy’ll pick him apart. Jesus, Pete, you take him to a neurologist?”

“Neurologist saw him in Bogota,” Pete says. “Commission neurologist looked at him for the physical. They didn’t find anything. What do you want me to say?”

“You tell them about the dressing room?”

“What am I going to tell them? I’m not a doctor.”

“You tell Mickey about it?”

He looks through the glass and watches Mickey skipping rope.

“Yeah, I told him. I told him enough.”

“It’s just a matter of time,” I say. “He keeps getting hit in the head like that—Jesus, he’s just a kid.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Pete says. Then he gets angry. “I told him to take it easy for a while. He was just gonna spar. That’s all he was doing down in Mexico. But what am I supposed to do? They called him up. They offered him the fight. It’s a shot at the title. You want me to tell him not to take it? You know what they’re paying him? A hundred thousand. You want me to tell him to give that up?”

“How much are you getting?” I say. As soon as I say it, I regret it.

“You go to hell,” Pete says. “I’m not taking advantage of him. You want to know what Alfonso’s getting, too?”

“No,” I say. “I don’t want to know that.”

“You think I should work for free?” Pete says. “The sparring partners, they should work for free? You work for free, Max?”

“No,” I say. “I don’t work for free.”

I look through the glass at Mickey.

“I could write about it,” I say. “I could write about the dressing room. That’d get them to stop the fight.”

Then Pete stands up and comes toward me. He’s a big man. He was a heavyweight.

“You’re not gonna write one word about that,” he says. “You’re not going to ruin this for him. He needs that money. He’s gonna send his brother to college, you know that? And his mother, you think her medicine’s cheap? Besides, it’s a shot at the goddamn title.”

But he doesn’t need to say any of that. It was an empty threat. I’m not going to write anything. If I were, I would have done it already. I’m too close to the story. That’s the problem. I don’t even know why I said it.

“It’s a hell of a risk,” I say.

“You think he doesn’t know what the risks are?” Pete says. “Every fighter knows. That’s part of it. That’s what they pay them for. That’s why you write about them. You want them to take risks. Better copy.” He turns away from me and sits down on his desk. We both look out and watch Mickey and the other fighters train.

“I’m just worried about his head,” I say. “What if he gets hurt again?”

“It’s a middleweight title fight,” Pete says. “Guys wait their whole careers for a chance like this. You want him to turn it down?”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying, Max? What do you want me to do?”

I’m feeling terrible the whole conversation. I don’t know what the hell I want him to do. I don’t even know why I came in here.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m just worried about him. He’s only twenty-four.”

“Yeah? Well I’m worried about him, too,” Pete says. “You think I want him to get hurt? But this is boxing. This is what he does. No one’s forcing him to fight.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“It’s his decision.”

“I know.”

“And don’t you go worrying him, either. He’s got enough to worry about. He can’t go in there afraid of getting hurt.”

“I know,” I say.

“He needs the money, Max. He’s got a family to take care of.”


I start to leave. I don’t know what the hell I was trying to do here. I don’t know what I thought I was going to accomplish. Suppose Mickey stops fighting. Suppose he gives it up right now. It may already be too late; he’s taken some hard shots. But even if he’s fine, what’s he going to do for money? How’s he going take care of his family? What’s he going to do, answer phones? Wash dishes?

“You’re gonna tell him to stay on the outside, right? You’re gonna work on his defense?”

“I know how to train my fighters,” Pete says.

“Yeah, I know.”

I head out to the floor. Mickey’s still skipping, and he’s got a good sweat on.

“Work the heavy bag,” Pete tells him.


Mickey turns to me. “You going to Eli’s?”

“Yeah, I’ll be at Eli’s,” I say.

“I’m going there in a couple of hours. I’m meeting some guys. Maybe I’ll see you.”

“Sure,” I say. I head out of Gloves and get in my car.

I could contact the commission, I guess. Tell them exactly what happened. They’d probably listen to me; they take head injuries seriously. Make him get checked out again. Submit to a whole new round of tests.

But I’m not going to do that to him. Even if they clear him, it’d be a huge distraction. He’d lose training time, lose focus. And he’d have the rumor of a head injury hanging over him. No fighter wants that. Plus, Pete’d probably get sanctioned for not saying anything. He’d never let me back in Gloves again.

It’d be tough for me to cover any fight after that. What boxer would want to talk to me after I did something like that to Mickey?

Of course, there could really be something wrong with him.

But I’m not his father.

So I go to Eli’s and order a beer from Trevor and sit down at a table by myself. The place is empty. I’m the only one there. Trevor’s reading the newspaper, and he gives me half. I take it to the table with the beer. He’s got some old blues on the sound system. Bessie Smith. There’s a piano and a bass in the background. I can’t make out what she’s singing.

I start to read the paper, but I’m not interested in it, so I pull out my notes. I’ve got to write an article about Mickey’s fight. There’s a lot I could say in that article, but I’m not going to say it. I’m just going to write the same thing everyone else writes. Maybe I’ll put in something about Pete and Gloves. I put the notes away. I’ll write the article later. I don’t feel like writing anything now. I bring my beer over to the pool table in the back and shoot a few games, keeping track of how many shots it takes to sink all the balls.

I could have had a couple of pro fights. I might have done alright. I wouldn’t have minded taking that risk, or taking some other kind of risk, getting my hands dirty, being part of the action, instead of just watching other people do it and writing about it when I’m safe at home, or alone in some empty bar.

I look down at the pool table and try to concentrate on my shots.

Mickey comes in after a while. His hair’s still wet from the shower. He orders a cranberry juice from Trevor then comes over to me and we shoot some pool. I ask him about his mother, and we talk about Gloves, and he tells me about sparring with Junior Losato.

“I know why they’re bringing me in,” he says to me. “I know what’s going on. It’s a tune-up, just so he can hold onto his belts. I’m not stupid. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a shot.”

“Sure,” I say.

“The thing is,” he leans forward, like he’s about to tell me a big secret. “I don’t even have to beat him. Nobody expects me to win, I know. But the thing is, I don’t even have to. I just have to look good. Put on a good show. This could be the start of something for me.” He leans back and nods to himself, like he’s thinking it over.

“Don’t talk like that,” I say. “You gotta go in there to win. You got to use strategy. Keep away from his right. Keep moving. You don’t have to put on any kind of show.”

“Yeah, I do,” Mickey says. “I do have to put on a show. I got to bang with him. I got to get in there and really make it a fight, even if I lose. I can’t run away from him the whole time. I got to make people want to see me again. That’s the key. I have to make them want to see me.”

“Mickey,” I say. “You can’t trade with this guy. You can’t just stand in front of him. He’ll pick you apart. You won’t be able to get in.”

“I got in pretty well against Carlitos.”

Yeah, I think. You got in. You got in a lot.

“I know nobody’s picking me to win,” Mickey says. “I wouldn’t pick me either.”

“You can’t think like that,” I say. “That’s no way to go into a fight.”

“No, listen,” he says. “I’m telling you I don’t need to win. I don’t even need to make it the whole twelve rounds. If I can just hang with him for eight—eight good rounds where I’m really fighting him, not just staying on the outside trying not to get hurt, but really fighting him—that ought to be enough.”

“Come on, Mickey.”

“I got to make people want to see me again, Max. I gotta think about my future.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“No, you don’t get it. If I can go eight rounds with Tommy Monroe, then maybe I can get another big fight. Maybe against someone who’s not such a heavy hitter. It doesn’t have to be a champion, just someone in the top five, top ten even. I just got to make them want to watch me fight.”

I let him talk. I have a sick feeling in my stomach.

“A hundred thousand,” he says. “Can you believe it? I know Tommy’s making a lot more. I don’t care about that. If I do well enough, maybe I can get more fights like this. More fights for a hundred thousand. Or two hundred thousand, even. Maybe even half a million. Can you imagine that? If I really push him, he might even give me a rematch. Imagine what I could make then.”

He’s dreaming now. His mother’s got a new wheelchair and his brother’s in medical school. He’s got a big house and a couple of cars.

“I never thought I’d get a shot like this,” he says. “I mean, I trained for it and all, but I never thought it would really happen.”

I look down at my beer.

“After the Lopez fight,” I start to say. Then I hesitate. I don’t know how far to take it. “You were in pretty bad shape, Mickey.”

“I know I was,” he says. “But they checked me out, and I’m okay now.”


What am I gonna say?

“I just got to show them I belong in there, that I belong in the ring with him. If I can stick it out for twelve rounds, I got it made, easy. But eight’s all I need. Lots of guys get good fights after they’ve gone hard with a champion for eight or nine rounds.”


I’m picturing Tommy Monroe pounding Mickey in the head with his right hand for eight rounds.

“Maybe I can open a gym someday.”

“Sure,” I say. “You could train your own fighters.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

I watch him thinking about it. There’s no use me saying anything more. It’s going to happen whether I like it or not. I’ve just got to wait it out and hope he doesn’t get too hurt. Jesus, I’ve known him since he was ten years old.

We shoot pool for a while. Then a couple of his friends come in. He invites me to stick around, but I tell him I have to go, that I have a deadline to meet. And I head on home.

I go back to Gloves a few times after that and skip rope and work the heavy bag and the mitts. Pete comes over and gives me drills to work on and pointers. He doesn’t usually do that. I see him training Mickey, and I say hi to Mickey and tell him he’s looking good. But I don’t tell him I’m worried, and I don’t say anything to Pete about that, either. Mickey’s brother comes in a couple of times when I’m there. He brings along other kids. Some of them ask Mickey for his autograph. They’re all about sixteen. His mother comes in once. There’s a photographer that day, and he tries to take her picture. But she doesn’t like that and goes into Pete’s office and waits there until he’s gone.

The day of the fight, I fly up to Detroit and check into a hotel near the stadium. I try to eat something at the bar, but I can’t. It’s like I’m fighting myself, I’m so nervous. I have a few drinks to try to calm down and read the newspapers. I read anything I can get my hands on. Then, a couple of hours before the first fight, I go down to the stadium. I take a seat in the press section by the corner Mickey’s going to be fighting out of, and I watch them finish setting everything up.

All during the undercard, I’m half out of it. Nothing to see anyway, at least not at first. Young, hungry kids with just a couple of fights under their belts versus nobodies their promoters bring in to lose. None of them last more than three rounds. Then the quality improves and it’s prospects versus journeymen, and the prospects are tested. A lot of them fail. Tough life, being a journeyman. Traveling all the time, always fighting guys who are younger, fresher, trying to prove themselves. Hometown judges, hostile crowds. You get robbed a lot, lose fights you really won. Make a few thousand, five, ten if you’re lucky. Then do it again somewhere else as soon as you heal.

The fight just before the main event is a good one. Two featherweights, a Thai and a Filipino, both of them game. The Filipino comes out hunting and scores a knockdown in the first. He’s fast. He wins the first few rounds. But then the Thai starts figuring him out. He starts timing him better and scoring with his counters. In the sixth, he catches the Filipino with a hook and pounds him on the ropes until finally the ref steps in to stop it. He should have stopped it sooner, as far as I’m concerned. The Filipino wasn’t defending himself. I make some notes about the Thai fighter. I know I’ll hear more about him in the future.

Then it’s time for Mickey’s fight. By now, the stadium’s almost full. You can feel the energy in the crowd. They want to see their boy. Mickey comes out first, and there are a lot of boos, but also cheers from the Mexican fans. A lot of Mexican?Americans have shown up for the fight. I’ll make sure to put that in the article. Mickey’s bouncing on his toes, and he’s looks loose and ready. Pete’s stoic as always. Alfonso, who’s probably old enough to be Mickey’s grandfather, is standing next to Pete, clapping the whole time. And there’s another guy about Alfonso’s age, who I’ve seen around Gloves, standing behind him, acting as second assist. He’s clapping too, but he looks self-conscious, like he doesn’t want to be up there. Then Tommy Monroe comes in. The whole crowd stands up, it seems like, and they all start to yell. Someone’s carrying his middleweight belts, and he’s got guys behind him in sunglasses.

He and Mickey meet in the center of the ring, and he doesn’t look any fitter than Mickey, and he doesn’t really look any bigger. He’s got maybe an inch or two longer reach, and he’s four years older, but I don’t expect age’ll make much difference. He’s got more power, though, and he’s faster, and he’s got a whole lot more experience. The only thing Mickey has on him is maybe Tommy’s a little rusty. And Mickey’s got a strong chin. But then, that’s what I’m worried about. They stare at each other in the center, and the ref gives them instructions. Bobby Lund from the Cincinnati Times, who’s sitting right next to me, leans over and says, Poor Reyes. Monroe’s come to make a statement.

Then the fight starts, and Bobby Lund is right. Tommy Monroe comes out hard and fast, and he goes straight for Mickey’s head. Within the first fifteen seconds, Mickey’s clinching. The ref separates them and the crowd starts to boo, and it’s as if Mickey hears them because he settles down and begins to box. I hope he doesn’t hear them. I hope he’s not listening to the crowd in there; he’s got to stay focused. But anyway, he’s boxing now, and the booing’s stopped. He’s trying to stay in close and mix it up with Tommy. I’m willing him to move, but he’s flat?footed and making himself a target. That’s just the way he fights. Still, he’s doing alright. He’s losing the round, but he’s staying in there. He’s slipping some punches and throwing hooks to Tommy’s body with his left. Tommy doesn’t look hurt, though. You could probably hit him with a brick and he wouldn’t feel it. At the end of the round, the crowd applauds, and this time, I know Mickey can hear it because he smiles. He sits down and sees me and nods and looks like he’s going to say something, but Pete slaps him in the face, and tells him to listen. He starts telling him in Spanish to move more and to watch his head and not to trade punches. Mickey nods and drinks water, and when the bell rings, Alfonso puts in his mouthpiece and Mickey heads out to the center. I wonder what he’s thinking in there. I wonder what I’d be thinking. One eighth done? One down, seven to go? Or maybe he’s thinking about the time. Twenty?one more minutes, that’s not so bad. I can do that. That’s nothing.

He starts off the second circling and looking for angles, which is good. That’s what Pete told him to do. Stay on the outside, come in quick, then back off. But Tommy’s just too fast. He’s got his jab working now, and it’s like lightning. Mickey comes at him from the side and goes for the ribs or the gut, and Tommy hits him with a double jab. Then Mickey backs away. He can’t get away from that jab. Every time he comes into range, he gets hit with it. And he’s getting more and more frustrated. And I’m getting frustrated for him. I know he just wants to eat a few jabs and come in. I guess he thinks that’s the only way he can fight Tommy. That’s the only chance he has. Staying on the outside, he’ll just keep getting picked off. That’s not going to show anybody anything. That’s not going to get him any more fights. Even if he lasts the eight rounds, he’ll just be a punching bag. He’s got to try to do some damage. He’s got to show them he can fight. He sticks with Pete’s plan as long as he can, trying to slip the jabs and weave under them. Then, about halfway through the round, I guess he just can’t hold out any longer. He tries to bully his way in, just ducks his chin down and comes straight at Tommy, which is exactly what Pete told him not to do. But Mickey’s not thinking about this fight; he’s thinking about making a good impression, and he’s not making any impression on the outside. So he charges on in, and Tommy Monroe’s waiting for him. He throws out a quick jab. Then when Mickey rolls it, he hits him with a beautiful straight right. It’s a minute and a half into the second round, and Mickey’s down on the canvas. The crowd’s yelling as loud as they can, and they’re all on their feet, and the ref starts counting. But Mickey, to his credit, had his chin down when he came in. He had it buried in his chest. So Tommy hit him hard, sure, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. He gets up at eight, and his legs look alright. But his eyes are different. It’s like he didn’t know what he was in for, but now he knows. Bobby Lund turns to me. Here we go, he says. And for the rest of the round, Tommy’s going for the early knockout. But he’s too eager. He’s too wild. Mickey’s covering up and taking the punches on his arms and blocking his ribs with his elbows. He’s trying to fire back, but nothing connects. Tommy’s too fast. He’s wild, and Mickey can see the punches coming and can block them okay, but Tommy’s too fast for him to mount his own offence. And he’s not taking any initiative, either. That punch must have really shaken his confidence. He comes to his stool at the end of the round and spits out the mouthpiece and the first thing he says is I’m okay. You went right at him, Pete says. You should be lookin’ for angles. Cut him off. He’s too fast, Mickey says. Then it’s like he remembers. I gotta put on a good show. Forget the show, Pete says. To hell with the show. Protect your head. Listen to me. In and out, work the angles. But he might as well be telling him to fight southpaw. He’s giving Mickey advice he knows he can’t take. Mickey’s nodding anyway, pretending to listen. Then the bell rings and he goes back in. And I know he’s thinking about his eight. Two in the bag; six more to go. Yeah, he knocked me down, but I’m not that hurt. I can do six more rounds. I’m in shape. And I know he’s thinking about the money and about getting more big fights, and it’s terrible because he should be focused on Tommy, and on coming out of this one okay. Bobby Lund turns to me. Another round, he says. Two at the most. Pete looks over because he hears it, too. Then we all start watching Mickey go forward. Tommy’s corner must’ve told him to go for it because he’s wild and looking for the knockout. His power’s still there, but he’s rusty from all the time off. A better fighter than Mickey might have been able to slip him and work the angles like Pete says, but Mickey just comes straight at him. Maybe he’s hurt more than I thought. Or he can’t find an opening. Of course, he should be trying to make his own opening, but he’s covering up at least, and taking the shots on his gloves and protecting his ribs pretty well with his elbows. A couple of times, a jab or cross gets through, but he’s hanging in there. He’s staying close to Tommy. And since Tommy’s not bothering with defense, Mickey manages to sneak in a few shots. He’s losing the round, but he’s banging with him; he’s not running away. He’s got to be proud of that. Then, just when I think maybe Mickey has a chance to go his eight, Tommy breaks through his guard and jerks his head back with a couple of jabs, then comes in hard with a right and a left hook, a four-punch combination, and that ends the round. Mickey comes back to his corner, and he looks bad. His right eye’s starting to swell and he’s heaving. I’m alright, he says to Pete. I’m alright. Like he’s trying to convince himself. How many rounds is that? Pete tells him three. How many? Pete holds up three fingers. Bobby Lund elbows me in the ribs. One more round, he says. Go to hell, I tell him. Alfonso puts the enswell on the mouse that’s starting to come up below Mickey’s right eye and holds it there, and he puts his other hand on the back of Mickey’s head. Then he puts Vaseline on Mickey’s eyebrows and cheekbones. All the time, Pete’s giving him instructions. You can tell he’s worried about him. I’m alright, Mickey says. He takes some water and spits in the bucket. Then it’s the fourth round. Mickey heads out to the center of the ring with his shoulders hunched forward and his chin down, and he’s trying to do what Pete said, slip and use his footwork to find the angles. But Tommy’s calmed down. His trainer must have said something to him because now he’s staying outside, coming in to jab and throw a quick combination to Mickey’s head then popping back out again, and Mickey’s too slow to do anything. Or else Tommy’s too fast. He’s going after Mickey’s right eye like it’s got a bullseye on it. It’s a workout session for him. That’s all it is. About halfway into the round, he forces Mickey onto the ropes and starts to really work his body and his head. The crowd’s shouting and they’re on their feet, and Mickey’s covering up and trying to get out of there. He throws some defensive jabs, and ducks down and goes for Tommy’s ribs, but he can’t connect with anything solid, and he’s taking a hell of a lot of punishment. His right eye’s almost closed. The ref looks like he’s going to stop it. He starts to move in. Then the bell rings and that’s the end of the round.

Mickey comes back to his stool and he looks awful. He’s lost. He knows it. Pete knows it. The whole crowd knows it, and they’re all going wild for Tommy. And Mickey’s just sitting there looking blank. Alfonso’s got the enswell on his eye, but he’s not bothering with the Vaseline. What do you think, Mickey, Pete asks him. You want to go on? Mickey just leans forward on his stool and lets Alfonso work on him. He drinks some water and spits in the bucket. The ref comes over and asks Mickey if he’s going to continue. I’m not gonna let you take any more punishment, he says. How about it, Pete says. There’s no way you’re gonna win. Tommy just keeps getting stronger. You did good, Pete says. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. There’s no sense taking a beating if you know you can’t win. No sense in that, Alfonso says. The other second doesn’t say anything. He stands back, like he’s trying not to listen. How about it, the ref says. They’re all watching him. I’m gonna stop it, Pete says. Alright? And Mickey just looks awful. It’s like somebody died. He nods and looks up at the ref. Yeah, stop it, he says, quiet. Then he looks down at the canvas.

The timekeeper’s whistle’s gone off now, and Tommy’s corner’s left the ring. He’s out there alone. But Mickey’s still on his stool, so Tommy knows what’s going on. He’s just got to wait for it all to play out. Then, just as the bell rings, the ref turns around and waves his arms, and that’s it. Fight’s over.

About fifteen people rush into the ring all at once. They lift Tommy up onto their shoulders, and the crowd’s cheering for him. Then Tommy gets down and comes over to Mickey’s corner, and Mickey stands up and Tommy hugs him. And Mickey starts to look a little better, like he knows he’s got to put on a different face. But you can tell he just wants to get out of there.

They announce that Tommy’s won by technical knockout at three minutes of the fourth round, and someone lifts him up again. He’s got his arms raised. A television reporter starts to interview him in the center of the ring, and he gives a classy, gracious interview. I’d like to thank Miguel Reyes for fighting me, he says, and for taking the fight on such short notice. He says Mickey’s a tough kid, that he took a lot of punishment, that he hung in there. Then a bunch of reporters start asking him about his next fight and about his hand. He says he feels good, and the hand feels good, and it was good to shake the rust off in this fight. He’s ready for some top level competition now. He wants to make a fight with Charles Davis as soon as he can. He wasn’t ducking him, and he wants to prove it. He’s ready any time. They’re interviewing Mickey, too, but there isn’t really much he can say. There isn’t much they need to ask him, either. Everyone knows why he lost. He wasn’t ready for a title shot. That kid had no business being in the ring with Tommy Monroe, Bobby Lund says to me. It’s fights like these that give boxing a bad name. Tommy could’ve killed that kid. He shakes his head like it’s a disgrace.

I stand up and make my way into Mickey’s corner. A lot of people are hanging around the ring now, and I have to push to get through. Mickey’s sitting on his stool. He’s got a towel around his shoulders. Alfonso and Pete are both standing over him. The other second’s outside the ring, watching. I’m gonna take you to the hospital, Pete says. No, I’m alright, Mickey says. I’m taking you, Pete says. Don’t argue with me. Mickey looks at the canvas and nods and says alright. He doesn’t look so good. I mean, he’s beat up and he’s disappointed, but more than that, his eyes look kind of empty. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s tired and dejected or if it’s something more serious, and I’m worried. And I can see Pete and Alfonso are worried, too. Let’s go, Pete says, and he starts to help Mickey up. But Mickey doesn’t need that. He pushes Pete away. My legs are fine, he says. Then he turns to me. You think I did enough? I mean, it wasn’t eight, but I hung with him for four. I got in some good shots. I hit him in the ribs a couple of times pretty good. I know I hurt him. I was doing alright in there for a while, wasn’t I? He was just too fast. He was just too fast for me. But I did enough, right? You think I did enough? He’s looking at me like a little kid or a puppy or something. He knows the answer, but he still wants there to be a chance. His mother’s sick, and he wants his brother to go to college. He’s looking at me, and Pete and Alfonso are looking at me too, like I have some kind of power.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe.”


About the Author

Mark Blaine’s fiction has appeared in Whiskey Island Magazine, Connecticut Review, The South Carolina Review, Hue & Cry and elsewhere. He lives in Seattle, Washington.